WARNER ROBINS — Don’t expect a lot of trickery and flash when Houston County and Northside meet tonight in a GHSA Region 1-AAAAA game. Eagles defensive line coach Kevin Smith certainly doesn’t.
“We’re gonna try to man up and see if their guys can block our guys,” Smith said Tuesday. “We’re gonna try to beat their offensive line and tackle their running game.”
Tonight’s game between city rivals sets up as the classic matchup between a team determined to run the ball and a team dedicated to stopping that attack. The Bears (3-1, 0-1 Region 1-AAAAA) boast a fullback in senior Robert Williams who has already run for 784 yards and nine touchdowns. He has gone for at least 100 yards in each of Houston County’s first four games and averages 7.0 yards per carry.
“He’s a good back,” Smith said. “He runs hard. Breaks tackles. We’re going to have to lock up when we tackle.”
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Most of Williams’ yards come between the tackles. As a result, Northside’s front defenders will bear much of the responsibility for slowing him down. Josh Chester; Greg Clark and Ian Cunningham flop to either side of nose men Troy Williams and Earl Billingsley. Each averages four or five tackles per game. And while sacks are nice — Chester got one against Valdosta last week — each of the linemen understands their primary responsibility.
“We play the run first, then the pass,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham is a senior who has worked his way into the Eagles’ starting lineup by knowing his job and playing assignment football. He’s not big — maybe 5-foot-9 in cleats — but “he’s always where he’s supposed to be,” according to Smith.
Northside (3-0) is allowing 3.3 yards per rushing attempt and opponents are having more success as the season moves forward. At Valdosta, the Wildcats ran for 212 yards. That’s the most rushing yards the Eagles had allowed in a victory since Coffee ground out 251 last October.
Houston County is winless in 11 tries against Northside since the two schools began their series in 1998. Three of the past four games have resulted in shutout wins for the Eagles, and Houston County has not rushed for 100 yards or more since 2005. In that game, a 27-0 Northside win, Eric O’Neal ran for 126 yards for the Bears.
Northside’s approach to line play has remained constant through the years. The Eagles key their alignment off the opposing team’s tight end and match their own personnel accordingly.
“That way the guys only have to learn (technique for) one side,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, Houston County’s defensive line has also played well throughout its first four games. Ends Matt Mazick and Trey Grissett have three sacks and nine tackles for loss between them. Tackles Chauncey Green and Tyler Jackson have had a hand in 28 tackles this year.
Opponents are averaging 4.1 yards per carry against the Bears. Last week on a rain-soaked surface, Coffee rushed for 227, mostly between the tackles. Expect Northside to try to exploit a size advantage with its interior linemen to create holes for quarterback Briar Van Brunt and running back Shaquille O’Neill.